My brother J.D. probably didn't expect things to turn out this way. It was just a quick visit to Arizona and a meet-up with Sarah and me for gelato. So how in the world does the Transportation Security Administration come into play?
Well, it started with a shrieky sound and a burning rubber smell from my Subaru Forester about an hour before we were supposed to meet. I made it home, popped the hood and saw the soon-to-be-shredded final remnants of my fan belts. They were past due for a change (thanks so much to the guys who changed my oil last week and didn't mention this as part of their 40-point â€œinspectionâ€).
I mentioned this to my Subaru-driving brother around a mouthful of gelato. Soon after, we had flashlights aimed on the offending belts and developed a plan of attack. A few problems emerged: All the auto shops were closed, we had some inadequate tools and a bolt had fallen into an awkward place.
J.D. picked the parts the next day at Camelback Subaru. And he grabbed some wrenches designed for hard-to-reach places. The repairs went off easily after that. J.D. figured he'd keep the tools since A), he paid for â€˜em and B) he's more likely to get repeat use out of them (I concur). And off to the airport he went to head home to Missouri.
Some Tools Are Too Big to Fly
The TSA agents snared J.D.'s shiny new wrenches in their security gauntlet at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. All but one, apparently, was at least three-eighths of an inch too long to get through security.
These are not sharp objects – what? No, I mean the wrenches!
â€œThree-eighths of an inch is what makes us safe?â€ JD mused as he told me the story.
According to the TSA website's Prohibited Items page:
Wrenches and Pliers (seven inches or less in length) OK OK
JD sought some flexibility from the agents, including having me drop by to collect the tools. They were having none of it – they offered no ideas other than tossing these objects that are too dangerous to fly into a trash bin (is that any place for something too dangerous to fly?). And I can’t help thinking that these are now stored somewhere in a TSA employee’s garage.
The policy and â€œunsafeâ€ length seem arbitrary. And it confirms a big knock against TSA: that it wrings its hands over objects rather than assessing who's carrying the objects. They’re looking for stuff, not people with intent to cause mayhem.
TSA Keeps Authority and Sense Separated
This makes me think of Tokyo Narita International Airport: After we checked out baggage, a polite security agent pulled Sarah aside: â€œExcuse me, please – you have two cans of shaving cream in your backpack. Can you tell me why?â€ Sarah told her that she thought she'd left one behind earlier in the trip and picked up a second one. The agent thanked her and sent us on our way. She exhibited tact and good sense.
The point isn't the $20 cost of the tools. The lack of good sense, unwillingness to solve problems and security theatrics, though, are the crux of the matter.
TSA made no one safer today by preventing a bunch of wrenches from flying. And that's the organization's mission, isn't it?
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